By Rep. Linda Runbeck
The old saying is that deadlines have a way of producing results. That means the time between now, when this column is being written, and midnight Monday, May 18, will be interesting.
With mere hours remaining in the legislative session, budget negotiations between Gov. Mark Dayton, the House and the Senate are coming down to the wire. Big concessions have been made. The Democrat Senate gave up its proposed 16- to 26-cent gas-tax increase – and the Republican House gave up its proposed $1.9 billion in tax cuts. That paved the way for closure on the education budget, the jobs and energy budget, the higher education budget and more.
Here are the bottom-line numbers:
The Governor and the Senate proposed a General Fund budget of $43 billion, $3 billion more than the House proposed. The total of the agreement lands in the middle: $41.5 billion. For perspective, it was only four years ago that Republicans demanded the state budget stay within $34 billion. The Governor insisted on $35 billion. Yet, in four short years, with full Democrat control for two of them, our state budget is poised to increase by 20 percent. Family budgets have not grown at this rate, so why is government? Things just seem backward.
In negotiations, nobody gets all they wanted. For example, the agreement denies a provision House Republicans passed to phase out Minnesota's practice of taxing Social Security benefits. This would have provided tax relief in the range of $280 to $600 per person to more than 366,500 Minnesotans.
Minnesota is one of only six states to fully tax Social Security benefits, and it is time we join the vast majority of other states in how we treat our elderly. Their budgets are often very tight, and not taxing their Social Security benefits would be a huge help.
One of the last remaining items to resolve is whether the governor would carry through with threats to veto the K-12 education bill. Will he veto the transportation bill or other bills? The big sticking point on education is the issue of education for 4-year-olds. Many experts say its results in improving learning aren't lasting. Many school districts oppose universal pre-K for fear it's an unfunded mandate or a sheer lack of space. As one superintendent put it, "We don't have a spare broom closet to put these kids in. What are we running, a day care?"
I am pleased a gas-tax increase is off the table. Also off the table is a transit sales tax, a wheelage tax and increased vehicle registration fees. If passed, the sales tax in the metro would have risen to 7.85 percent. In addition, a House plan that would dedicate the sales tax already being paid on auto parts to roads and bridges – a package providing $7 billion over the next decade – was denied by the Senate and the governor.
The session bore bipartisan fruit: a partial tuition freeze for state colleges and universities, teacher licensure for out-of-state teachers, the ABLE Act, sex-trafficking prevention grants, crime victims services grants, funding for Alzheimer's research, denial of funding of Southwest Light Rail Transit, limiting to 10 hours/school year the taking of locally adopted testing – to name a few measures.
Bills I chief-authored that passed the House include a bill on dyslexia that expands services available in our schools, a bill giving municipalities more voice in Met Council's water planning, a reverse referendum option for citizens who disagree with their city's development using lease revenue bonds, a requirement that Met Council receive legislative approval for light rail lines before making expenditures.